Some thoughts on cohabitation…

I’ve been watching and reading discussions on cohabitation and how it relates to the possibility for individuals’ ministry and their relationship to the church (specifically my faith community, but I know it’s problems in others as well).

At one point in my life, the answer would have been easy. Cohabitation was wrong. Period. No exceptions…no extenuating circumstances…no other perspective.

But as I’ve grown—both chronologically and spiritually—I’m realizing that the answer is NOT easy. And so I find myself living in a gap between my emotional feelings that developed so many years ago and the challenge to try to see through new eyes.

I’ve wondered if our perspective on marriage needs to be re-evaluated to help us look at the challenges cohabitation raises. Yes, it’s been around for a long time—but for many years, marriage was more a passing of “property”…of the woman into the custody of her husband. Even in Christian countries, marriage was not particularly church-related. Again, it was often for the passing of property and the cementing of political alliances—not the commitment of two people who loved each other and who wanted to spend their lives together.

In fact, many times that commitment was simply expressed through a choice to begin living together…perhaps acknowledged by a hand-fasting or some other communal acknowledgment.

While I am in full support of marriage, that has been relatively easy for me. I am a heterosexual female, and so there was no question but that marriage was a probability for me (although I also now realize that was not necessarily a given).

But for many of my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, marriage has not been any kind of possibility/probability until fairly recently. While some have chosen to not commit in any way, others have found their own way of making commitments to each other—commitments that are as real as the commitment my husband and I made to each other. Should they not be honored as well? In many ways, we are asking an entire community to make changes in how they relate to the rest of us without our being willing to acknowledge our lack of commitment to them…and an awareness of how that has shaped their community.

There are also challenges for heterosexual couples as well. Because of the way some of our financial systems are set up, marriage for older individuals may mean losing financial security. There are many reasons why both older and younger individuals may choose to forgo marriage, and I would not presume to know them all.

I don’t necessarily agree with some of these choices. But I have known—and continue to know—many couples who are in longterm committed relationships whose commitment to each other is as strong (and sometimes stronger) as the commitments of my married friends.

So while I strongly support marriage, I also don’t think that a “one size fits all” model works either. When we try to force everyone into a single box, we risk missing out on possibilities of ministry—both given and received.

I believe we need to look seriously at how commitment is expressed. In many cases, that may be through marriage. But not always—and I think that to insist that marriage is the only expression of a committed relationship does harm…to the individuals involved, to the church, and to the community.

Too many parallels…

As I have been looking back through history recently, I am struck by what seem to be parallels between the US today and Germany in the 1930s. They’re not complete parallels, but there are enough similarities that I find myself wondering…

Many Germans in the 1930s were struggling financially. They wanted a strong leader who would make things right again, and so many voted for Adolf Hitler, a man who promised that he would restore Germany to its pre-WWI greatness. It didn’t matter to his supporters that there were followers who were willing to resort to violence to help Hitler enforce his policies.

As is often the case when things are not going well, humans need to find a scapegoat. The situation must be the fault of someone else…that takes any responsibility away decisions from we might have made. And the easiest scapegoats to find are those who are somehow “other.” In Germany it became the Jews. They were described as criminals, parasites, vermin who needed to be exterminated.

Today I see similar language being used towards those who are “other” in the US. Immigrants are being described as invaders, animals, criminals—who need to be exterminated lest they somehow infect the “white race.” How can we not see the similarities?

I find myself wondering as well about the role of the church in all of this. There are some differences between Christianity in the 1930s Germany and Christianity in the US today, but there are also striking similarities.

Germany had a strong Christian background, although it was also laced with a strain of anti-Semitism that has unfortunately been a part of Christian history for centuries. It was easy for Hitler and his party to tap into that strain while at the same time claiming to be in support of Christian values. And also unfortunately, many Christian pastors fell in line, giving Hitler a cover of legitimacy by their support.

There were some—both members and pastors—who saw this relationship between government and the church to be problematic. They felt that rather than following Jesus, too many were following Hitler. Eventually some joined together to try to draw the church back to its foundation where the worship of Jesus was paramount, creating what became known as “the Confessing church.”

I realize this is a simplified portrayal, but the parallels continue to haunt me. Is Christianity in America at the same crossroads Christianity was in Germany in the 1930s? Are those of us who understand Jesus’ call to be ministers to the vulnerable facing the challenges of (1) standing in opposition to the language that negates the humanity of the “other” and (2) needing to band together across denominational lines to try to draw Christianity back to its foundation of worshiping Christ instead of binding the ties tightly between church and government?

I struggle with these questions because I have people whom I like who would say that I am wrong in these feelings. And yet I also cannot ignore the call I feel to stand and speak in support of the vulnerable. I realize that may mean losing friends, and I regret that. But again, the Jesus I worship worked with and ministered to the vulnerable and marginalized—can I do less?

 

Doing God’s work…?

The last couple of years I’ve heard a number of people say that they believe that Donald Trump won the presidency because that’s where God placed him…that he has been anointed by God…that he is indeed a follower of Jesus.

So I have a couple of questions for those of you who believe this. I’m serious in asking these questions.

  • How does his life show that he is a follower of Jesus?
  • What exactly is he doing that is God’s work?

Here’s the problem I have. I know that God uses flawed human beings–I’ve heard this statement a lot when questions have been raised about Trump. But Jesus said that “by their fruits you will know whether people are my followers” (my paraphrase)–and the “fruits” I see don’t correlate with how I see followers of Jesus.

This is just a partial list of the issues I have with the claim that Trump is God’s anointed, placed in the presidency to do God’s work:

  • His life shows a lack of the basic morality followers of Jesus show (i.e., multiple affairs, cheating on each of his wives with the woman who became his next wife).
  • Through the years he has “stiffed” those who have done work at many of his properties–refusing to pay bills and leaving many of those who have worked for him struggling to pay their debts.
  • He has refused to listen to the advice and counsel of those with training and experience in scientific, political and military affairs, often overriding their counsel with negative results.
  • He has insulted our allies and cozied up to and with dictators, expressing appreciation for how they run their countries.
  • He has demonized specific ethnic and religious groups, calling immigrants “invaders, thugs, rapists.”
  • Even though he promised to support members of the LGBT!+ communities, his policies are removing protections for them and leaving them vulnerable.
  • At his rallies, he accuses those who don’t agree with him as being “enemies of the people.”
  • He constantly accuses the mainstream news of being “fake news.”
  • When someone disagrees with him at a rally, he encourages calls of “throw them out” or “lock them up.”
  • He has surrounded himself with individuals who have been charged–and in some cases, already found guilty–of corruption in various forms.
  • His cabinet appointees, in many cases, are individuals whose stated purpose is to do away with the very departments they are tasked with running.
  • He created a policy that separated children from their families without keeping track of them or plans to reunite them…families that were already vulnerable because they were fleeing violence.
  • His priorities–as shown in his proposed budget–cut programs that aid the most vulnerable among us.
  • One of his big focuses is on building a wall of separation, when Jesus worked to tear down walls.

So how does any of this correlate with Jesus’ call to take care of the vulnerable? to live a moral life? to love others and to treat the stranger in our midst as we would want to be treated?

How does this correlate with God’s work? I just don’t get it.

 

Our words have consequences

There’s a children’s song that includes these lyrics: “be careful, little eyes, what you see…be careful, little feet, where you go…be careful, little mouth, what you say.”

I thought of that when I heard the news of the mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand–and the fact that one of those arrested had a social media account linked to an 85-page anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim manifesto.

Our words have consequences!

When we demonize entire groups of people–whether because of their religion, their sexual or gender identity, their politics, or any other way we choose to divide into us versus them–we should not be surprised when someone then finds it acceptable to attack those same groups.

We then hear words of condolence and condemnation–often from the same individuals/organizations/entities that demonized them in the first place.

Such hypocrisy!

We may not always agree with each other. In fact, I’m sure we won’t. But it’s possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

When we are willing to learn about each other–why we worship the way we do…why we have chosen the political path we are on…what it means to have a gender or sexual identity different from what is considered the norm–then we will see that those we call “them” often have the same challenges, concerns, cares, and hopes that we do.

They want better lives for their children–just as we do. They want a place to live and enough to eat–just as we do. They want a world where war isn’t the norm–just as we do.

Finding the solutions to the problems in the world is not going to be easy. But our words can help us find ways toward peace–or create more violence.

Which kind of world do we want? Our words do have consequences.

Talking with–or at?–each other

As I’ve listened to–and read–what passes for conversation today on a variety of topics, I find myself wondering if we’re trying to talk with each other or if we’re simply content to talk at each other.

What do I mean?

We may use the same words with each other–but it’s becoming more and more obvious that we often attach different meanings to them. It’s like a humorous saying I’ve heard about America and Britain–that we are two countries separated by a common language!

Part of the difficulty comes because we often approach our conversations from completely different foundations. Several years ago, the Smithsonian published an article from the relatively new field of political neuroscience suggesting that our political differences may have some biological basis. A key takeaway (at least for me) from the article is this:

Andrea Kuszewski, a researcher who has written about political neuroscience, would rather put a positive spin on what it could mean for politics. She says this kind of knowledge could help open up communication, or at least ease hostility between the country’s two major political parties.

“Each side is going to have to recognize that not everyone thinks like them, processes information like them, or values the same types of things…With the state our country is in right now, I don’t think we have any choice but to cowboy up and do whatever needs to be done in order to reach some common ground.”

A current article from Yahoo! News shows how difficult these conversations are going to be. What do we hear when we listen to each other? Or are we really listening? or just figuring out how we’re going to respond to what we think we hear?

Common ground seems to be really hard to find right now. But unless we are willing to do the hard work to try to find it, we are going to continue to become more and more divided–and instead of conversations that can help us find solutions, we will end up talking at (and past) each other!

What color is your world?

My world used to be black and white. There was a right answer and a wrong answer. There was a right way to do things and a wrong way. There was one right way to believe and everything–and everyone–else was wrong.

It was an easy and a comfortable way to live.

I didn’t have to struggle with ambiguity. I could make quick and easy judgments…based on what I knew was right.

But then I began to get acquainted with people who believed differently from me–but who lived in what I knew was the right way.

I met people from different countries and discovered that even though we differed on politics and sometimes religion, we had a lot in common.

I became friends with people whose loved differently than I did…who loved people of the same sex. And I met others whose seemingly obvious birth gender didn’t match with their internal gender.

I began to listen to scientists who caused me to question some of my earlier simplistic beliefs.

And my world changed colors.

blue green and red abstract illustration

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

It was no longer just two colors. It began to be filled with bright, beautiful colors–colors of the rainbow.

Sometimes I miss my easy and comfortable way of living–but then I look around and realize that all the colors make my life exciting and beautiful…just as I believe God created life to be.

Bridging the gap?

Individuals in many faith traditions are struggling with this question: How do we share and worship together in our diversity, still holding to our own personal beliefs while engaging with others who may believe differently? How do we build bridges? This guest post articulates those concerns. I share the desire to bridge the gap between myself and others whom I like but have significant disagreements with…but I also find myself wondering if that is still possible.

I have kept this close for a while now, these feelings and thoughts haunting my waking hours and shading how my eyes see the others in my life.  I was once asked by a friend and fellow Christian, to give space for their beliefs and interpretation, to not let my own view push theirs out or away.  I agreed with the validity of the point and their life experience and have attempted to do so over the last few years.  We have engaged on a number of topics and have found many points of agreement, even as we continue to disagree on many others.

However…

As our country and our shared faith has undergone tremendous change and stress over the last few years the gulf between us has continued to grow, despite (or maybe because of) our efforts to keep the bridge open and together.  I do not claim, nor can I know for sure their thoughts, and do not mean to put words into their mouth or intentions behind the actions I see, that is for them to share.  But for myself I am feeling less and less like there is room in our relationship for my way of being and believing.  As we have shared it has seemed (to me) to become less about listening to each other and more about being pressed to agree.  It does not matter who started it, I’m not even sure I could say for sure if I had to, and both of us are guilty of it at times.  But as their position has solidified, the ground between us has continued to move us apart and now, when I stretch out my hand, our fingers no longer touch and I can’t help but be saddened by that fact.  And wonder what has happened and if it’s even possible to cover the distance any more.  And this friend is not the only one this has happened with.

Social media has may positives, but in so many ways, I am not convinced it does anything to improve our lives or our communities.  I have trouble reconciling the people I see on Facebook with the people I see in church, at work, on the street.  For several, including the one mentioned above, I have to wonder that if they really believe what they post, how on earth do they tolerate being around me?  And then that questioning filters into how I interpret our physical interactions… and I wonder.  I also question how I can continue to be an ally to the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and still want to maintain “peace” with those who refuse to see how our actions continue to hurt people of color, the LGBT+ community, etc.  Am I really an ally then?

Martin Luther King Jr’s words continue to haunt me – “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

I no longer wish to be silent but I do not know what words to speak.  My prayer is that whatever words I use, may they be spoken in support of justice and love, of the Shalom of the peaceable kingdom, and of the worth of each person, even if those words require me to speak up in ways I find uncomfortable or even scary.